Finian’s Rainbow at Ivoryton Playhouse Strikes Gold
By Amy J. Barry
More than the luck of the Irish, Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of Finian’s Rainbow is a well thought-out, well executed revival of a charming classic musical written by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, lyrics by Harburg, and music by Burton Lane. The show shines under Julia Kiley’s spot-on direction—tailored to fit the small stage of the Ivoryton to a tee.
Kiley wisely did not attempt a big, flashy production of the musical that opened on Broadway in 1947, returning to Broadway in 2009 in a critically acclaimed revival.
Instead, she took her cue from the original production performed in New York’s intimate Irish Repertory Theatre with a pared down orchestra—two pianos played beautifully in tandem by John DeNicola, the show’s musical director, along with Melanie Gueri—and a smaller cast of accomplished actors well-matched to their roles.
Right off the bat, there is a lot going for this show. Such strong melodies as “How are Things In Glocca Morra?” “Old Devil Moon,” “Look to the Rainbow, and “If This Isn’t Love,” have survived the test of time. Written well before the Civil Rights movement, the Irish fable with a contemporary twist also takes on relevant issues of racism and classism with ironic humor in such numbers as, “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich.”
R. Bruce Connelly plays the scheming Finian McLonergan with his signature funny facial expressions and comic timing. He travels with his lovely daughter Sharon, played by the lovely Kathleen Mulready, to the mythical Rainbow Valley, Missitucky, USA with a pot of gold he plans to bury near Fort Knox under the presumption that “any man can plant a bit of gold in America and become a millionaire.” The problem is, he’s “borrowed” the gold from Og, a leprechaun (Michael Nathanson), who wants it back. Otherwise the leprechauns of Glocca Morra will lose their magical powers and the crock of gold will no longer grant wishes.
Nathanson is delightful as the charming and mischievous leprechaun who gets the audience going as he gradually loses his magical powers and becomes more human and “Elvis”-like.
Other stand-out performances include Larry Lewis as Senator Rawkins, the sour-faced Southern bigot who is magically turned black to get a taste of his own prejudices—a corny concept that clearly dates the play, but Lewis’s polished performance takes the sting out of his disconcerting appearance in blackface, as does his banter with Og when he tells him that he used to be white, and Og replies that he used to be green, and the Senator responds, "Don't you find an occasional change of color interesting?"
John Rochette plays an irresistibly charming Woody, the All-American young man who wins the heart of the Irish lass Sharon (within the first 10 minutes of the play, but alas, that’s musical theater). The production is accented by elegant ballet vignettes by Tessa Grunwald as Susan, who is mute and communicates through dance. Patryce Williams as Dottie, an African American resident of Rainbow Valley, lends her powerful voice to the gospel-inspired tunes “Necessity” and “Grade A.”
A first-rate ensemble, including Guilford’s Schuyler Beeman, rounds out the production.
An uncluttered set by Tony Andrea of rolling hills, gives the illusion of an expansive stage and is nicely accentuated by Tate Burmeister’s
colorful emerald green lighting.
Finian’s Rainbow continues through Sept. 5 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. For tickets, call the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
This review appeared in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers and online Zip06.com, Aug. 25-26, 2010.